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In this week's episode, Jack Chambers-Ward is joined by Katie McDonald, SEO Specialist at Kaweb, to discuss things that are annoying us about SEO in 2023.
Jack: Welcome to Episode 79 of Season 2 of the Search With Candour podcast. I am your host, Jack Chambers-Ward, and this week I am joined by the SEO specialist over at Kaweb, Katie McDonald. Katie and I will be talking about things that are annoying us about SEO in 2023, some dos and some don'ts essentially, across all the different various topics within SEO. It's a very fun conversation. I think you'll very much enjoy it.
But before we get to my conversation with Katie, I'd like to say a huge thank you to Search With Candour's sponsor, the one and only SISTRIX, the SEO Toolbox. And if you go to SISTRIX.com/swc, that stands for Search With Candour, you can get access to their fantastic free tools and also a free trial of their main service as well. On the SISTRIX blog, they have recently released a couple of IndexWatches for Q2 of 2023, the one in the UK done by former guest of the show, the fantastic Luce Rawlings, who is a data journalist over there at SISTRIX, and also an IndexWatch from Sweden from the latest data journalist, Hervé Le Turdu. I apologise, Hervé, if I'm pronouncing your name incorrectly. I don't think I've ever spoken Swedish in my entire life.
On the UK side of things, Luce is talking about Kaspersky, the internet security company, basically growing almost 50% because of their informational content; familydoctor.org, which is a US site that is having some success in the UK search side of things; and of course, talking about DIY.com, AKA the brand B&Q, which we have talked about quite a few times on the show before because they are doing some fantastic work and are still growing. There is a really kind of shining case. I always use B&Q and their website, DIY, as an example when I'm talking about combining e-commerce with informational content and informational intent for the search intent and why they're doing so well with that. So, highly recommend you go and check that out in a bit more detail.
The links will be in the show notes, of course, at search.withcandour.co.uk. Luce is also talking about why cancer.org has been dropping recently and there seems to be an international aspect causing that drop. There's also something to learn from the Corporate Finance Institute as they seem to be losing visibility as well. And Matalan, a retailer we talked about not too long ago, maybe a few months ago on the show, also appears to be pretty significantly losing their visibility with about a 30% drop since Q1 of 2023. So that is the Search Winners and Losers for the UK of Q2 of 2023.
Over to Sweden, having a look at a pretty big kind of thing. A lot of the news media stuff is taking a big rebound. There is a lot of that science and educational stuff seeing a pretty big percentage increase as well. I know very, very little about Swedish SERPs and Swedish search in general, so this is really interesting, the glimpse into that side of things from a search perspective. If you've never looked into Swedish SERPs before, this is a really, really fantastic article to dive into and get some more data out of. What this article does, it looks at the share of the search, it looks at long-term and short-term stuff, kind of dividing everything by industry sectors and categories, different business models, all this kind of stuff; and talking about things like the drop in visibility for things like online doctors and things like that; the power of publishers and various different publishing things, especially when it comes to the medical side of things and how they're growing and losing visibility there as well. It's a really interesting look at the Swedish SERPs. I highly recommend, and like I said, I'll have links for both of these in the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk.
My guest for this week is an SEO specialist at Kaweb, and also you may recognise her from a recent episode of the SEO Mindset Podcast. Welcome to the show, Katie McDonald.
Katie: Hello. You alright, Jack?
Jack: I'm alright, thank you. How are you? Welcome to the show.
Katie: Yes, I'm good. Thank you. Really excited to be chatting SEO. Yes, I'm very excited.
Jack: Me too because I think this is going to be a little bit different to some of the previous episodes we've done. I've covered a lot of different topics over the last few weeks, whether that's Mark and I doing Q and A stuff or loads of different guests uncovering a lot of different topics from Google perspectives to SGE and the future of SERPs and all this kind of stuff. I think it's time we go on a little bit of a rant. Right, Katie? This was kind of the topic you and I were discussing earlier. Let's have a little vent. Let's have an open, honest discussion about the state of SEO and what we think people are doing wrong and what has been going wrong and all that kind of stuff in 2023.
Katie: Yeah, I think there's some things that need to be addressed to make us all better SEOs because that's what we're all here for, isn't it?
Jack: Exactly, exactly. So when you came up with and pitched me this idea, what was your kind of thought behind it? What was the kind of, "This is the kind of thing I want to talk about," or, "Is this something I would want to hear if I was listening to a podcast," from that kind of angle as well?
Katie: So when I was excited to get onto the podcast and I thought, oh, what really exciting up-and-coming revelatory topics can I talk about? Feeling the pressure of all these amazing topics that are being talked about. And so, what can I say though? There's all these things that annoy me about SEO and there's everything going on in the SEO world. And then when you suggested, "Well, actually what's annoying you in the industry? What's exciting you in the industry?" I kind of realised, oh, it doesn't have to be some massive topic and some groundbreaking piece of research. It can just be actually, we're all SEOs. What's really niggling at you at the moment that could be used to do SEO better?
I thought, all right, there's a topic, and suddenly reeled off the now narrowed down list of things to address because obviously, I'm sure I'll put my heart and soul into it, but it'll be some good things to take from me as well definitely to make us better SEOs, yeah. So yes, I'm very excited to get it all off my chest.
Jack: Yeah, me too. I think it's going to be a really good chat and I really love the way you took that phrase because that's the phrase I tend to use for any guest. If they can't think of a topic or they're not instantly pitching me a topic as a guest, I say, "Well, what are you really enjoying? What are you finding annoying?" And you're like, "Aha, annoying. Perfect opportunity. Let's jump on that."
Jack: So shall we dive in to point number one on the list, and let's talk about, should we say, some conflicting kinds of reports and things like that? A lot of people say, "Oh, you need to rank for this keyword, you need to be targeting these keywords," but I think from your point of view, and I think a lot of our point of view, I know our SEO Director here, Mark, has talked about this a lot, you really should be looking at search intent rather than just plain old keywords, right?
Katie: Yeah. So I think there's two things really here. Reporting in itself is a whole minefield, but then also, there's the whole, are you reporting on keywords or are you reporting on search intent? And then there's the whole, you have to think even wider than that. So SEO isn't just about keywords, which is a whole other conversation. But yeah, I think we need to be... We see so many, I don't know, companies get in contact with us or like every agency does or lots of companies do with, "Oh, we've looked at your website and we can get you ranking number one in four days with these links," or they'll throw us some... They'll clearly have done a really quick site audit in Ahrefs or something and it says, "Oh, 70% instead of 100%. Actually your title tags aren't long enough," or all this kind of stuff. And actually, you look at Search Console and then you start asking questions to the client about their business, you get to understand the business, how it works, what the priorities are, where they're going to get the best ROI. Then you'll do a strategy around that and it's like suddenly one's obviously much more thoughtful and thought-through, and the other one's just pulling a report in a technical audit that says, "Oh, you need to change your title tag," because that's going to make no difference unless it's literally... Obviously, you have meta titles and things, they need to make sense and they need to be optimised, but it's pointless optimising it if it's the wrong intent or do you know what I mean? So there's reporting and then there's actual, is this working? Is your business getting more business because of what we are doing? And then there's the technical audit that doesn't mean anything to anyone that's not going to make a difference.
Jack: Yeah, there's that bit in the middle there I think where a lot of people get, like you say, these... We're going to say it, we're ranting on this episode. The dodgy agencies that just kind of chuck their logo on a white paper like a MaRS export or an Ahrefs export and be like, "Oh, we found that your site is only," like you said, "70% good," or whatever the hell that means, as if all of those different tools will report different numbers at any given moment and it's all third-party data. So yeah, it's all kind of wishy-washy anyway.
But you are totally right there where you'll get those like, "Oh yeah, we'll get you ranking number one for this keyword in so many weeks or so many days," or whatever. But if that keyword isn't directly relevant to your customers, your business, whoever your website is for, what's the point? That's the search intent there. And this is something we talk about so often with our clients here. And I was having a conversation the other day where they had a wholesale client of ours, so an e-commerce client of ours, and a lot of their category pages were just the generic phrase for this type of product. And I said, "How about we add wholesale or bulk buy or those kinds of phrases to actually target the kind of B2B audience you're looking for rather than a B2C audience?" And the phrase wholesale was not on the website once. They don't mention that at all. And I was like, "How about we shift that because that has a much clearer intent for the kind of audience you're looking for?" If people are looking to buy X product, sure, maybe you can buy it in a one-pack or a two-pack or probably go and get it in Tesco or whatever; if you want to buy 500 of these things, you're probably searching for "bulk buy product X" or "wholesale product X" or whatever it is. And that's what they do. And it didn't even occur to the previous agencies they'd worked with, apparently, and all this kind of stuff to be like, "Yeah, that's a whole different twist," that the search intent is so different for those two. Just little modifiers on the keywords makes such a big difference.
And I think you're totally right. You can look at, "Oh, this one's got the biggest search volume, so let's search for this," and you add a wholesale modifier to it and it's 10 times less. But then as you were saying there, you're then talking about conversions, you're talking about sales, and at the end of the day, that's kind of what we are here for, right?
Katie: That's why they're there, isn't it?
Jack: Is to make the client money, to make sure people are inquiring, people are purchasing stuff.
Katie: Definitely, yeah. I think that's so strange actually that you mentioned the bulk buy example because I literally have two examples in my head and one of them is about a website that's about bulk buying.
Katie: So I don't know if there's something weird going on here. But no, the example I had was, well, one from one of my own clients where they were trying to rank for ‘modular emergency buildings’ with the mindset that it was for... They were getting it the wrong way around now. They'd got their intent wrong. I say wrong. Obviously, they hadn't done the SEO research because we hadn't looked at that page yet, but basically they wanted to rank and get leads for people, for businesses, and schools, et cetera, who needed, I don't know, that'd had a fire and they needed an emergency temporary building to help them in that crisis. Whereas what you get when you look for "modular emergency buildings" is there's not really... People don't use "modular emergency buildings." They just search the term "emergency buildings," first of all, because they don't think, "Modular." And also, where we then started, we did a whole deep dive and it was one of those where it was a massive project in the end and they said, "Oh, what about can we rank for modular police station, modular this, that and the other?" Because actually, there was then confusion over whether they should rank for the NHS services and the emergency services. They can build a modular police station or a modular doctors or whatever it was. But then the search intent actually for a modular police station was Lego-related. I kind of had to go to them and explain, "Look, this is what we're actually working with. You're better off having one page." They ranked really well, to be fair, because it was talking about modular emergency buildings and it was so niche, but then people would get on that page and bounce, so they literally had no conversions from that page. And I kind of had to explain, "Well, that's why. Because it's all well and good ranking, but if your search intent's wrong, no one's going to want to buy Lego because they're not looking for Lego."
Jack: If people are expecting Lego and they're not getting Lego...
Katie: So yeah, it's make or break. It really is make or break. And I think that difference between, like you say, clients wanting to go for the big, exciting search volume when you say, "Oh, if I want to rank for red shoes," it's our shoe shoe retailer, "because it's got 50 million," or I don't know what the numbers are, but whereas actually, if you go with super long-tail and get more specific with it, people looking for size six red shoes for a girl, do you know what I mean? Then that's far more likely to convert, and obviously, it's going to be a bit less competitive to rank for. But the other example, just to throw this in as well with the bulk buy thing, was where this guy, he'd created a website called Bulk Co. I think. I'm not sure if that's the same one that you worked on but-
Jack: It's not, don't worry. You're not suddenly outing my clients. Don't worry.
Katie: Yeah. So he made this, it was a dummy test website, just literally for SEO testing basically, and he'd researched around the keywords for bulk, say, a bulk wholesale alcohol and bulk buy alcohol, things like that. And he noticed that... Well, he ended up ranking first for bulk buy alcohol, wholesale alcohol for years, and I think it was something like three years, didn't move once from the top position. And the only thing he'd done differently was, compared to the other competitors on page one, was having literally loads and loads of products to meet the intent of bulk. You couldn't buy any of them. They all said "out of stock," the content was rubbish, but because they kept adding loads and loads and loads to meet the bulk intent, you literally ranked. You couldn't buy anything, but he ranked because he met the intent.
Jack: Yeah, we talk about this a lot. Obviously, the developer team here at Candour built the AlsoAsked tool, which helps you target those zero-volume keywords you were talking about there. The intent for those words, and I know... I'll put a link in the show notes if you haven't seen Mark's talk from BrightonSEO from a little while ago. It's all about that, the power behind zero-volume keywords. I was like, "Well, Google has to serve an answer somewhere, right?" So why not you, essentially, is the answer to that. If you can answer incredibly specific questions that if you're pulling data from Google, you know people are asking, you know your audience and your customers are going to be asking, then that's pretty nailed-on search intent. If you know your customers are asking these questions, then they're relevant to you, they're relevant to your business. It doesn't matter if they're 10,000 volume or supposedly zero volume according to all the tools, you could, like you said, really nail that conversion rate in customer stuff and get the customer heading in the right place landing on the right page.
And this was a big conversation we're having with another e-commerce client of mine here at Candour and saying about how they had these very big header terms but no subcategory structure. So if people are looking for a really specific type of product, they want, as you were saying earlier, they want women's shoes in a size six red Nike; if you don't have a page that answers at least a few of those variables, maybe you could do red Nike women shoes, for example, rather than just red shoes. They would just have red shoes, blue shoes, green shoes, and just have those options. And I was like, "You are losing a lot of audience here," because people, as you say, they will land on that page and be like, "Well, this isn't what I was looking for. Why am I seeing a bunch of men's stuff? The query I typed into Google said women's shoes size six," or whatever it did, "but I'm finding size 10 men's shoes instead and it is not matching my search intent." Having the content there to back it up, ignoring your weird alcohol example, of course, it is kind of important, right?
Katie: Yeah, definitely. I definitely think search intent is such a weird thing, and obviously when you're explaining it to a business that is the expert in their business, but obviously then it's the educational side of things with the client.
I've had many conversations with one of our clients who they were a bit unsure as to ranking for those zero-search volume terms. And I think because I'd explained about who was ranking for them and that it wasn't crazy big companies, it wasn't any of their major big competitors, but then said, "But actually, when you Google this," it was a query question that I literally, it was like a why or how or a what question, and it was proper nine keywords-long and Quora and Reddit and then Mumsnet or something were all ranking for it from six years ago. And I'm like, "We could easily..." Because the website was up-to-date and it was genuinely good content, had good foundations, I was like, "There's no reason why we couldn't actually steal that and get a featured snippet" because we'd built a habit up of designing content for that purpose. So I think it's just about educating clients sometimes that just because it's not thousands of thousands of search volume, actually it's far better to rank first and/or a feature to snippet and/or somewhere in that zero position than it is at the bottom of page two or bottom of page one because they're always going to click through then, aren't they?
Jack: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So something you touched on earlier is reporting, and this is a very hot topic, I think particularly in SEO agencies, because every agency will have a different way of doing it, and even from department to department might have different ways of doing it. But let's talk about the difference between what's right and wrong in SEO reporting in 2023. What should we be aspiring to and what should we be avoiding, I guess, in reporting to our clients these days?
Katie: Yeah, so that's a monstrous question really, isn't it? But I'll try and break it down a little bit. So I think reporting to me shouldn't be about just a list of keywords, but it's obviously very difficult to not report on a list of keywords because that's essentially what our job sort of boils down to. But then let's spread that down a bit because that's a lot of pressure on keywords when we don't draw Google's algorithm. So a report really should be... It should be looking at impressions and clicks, your organic visibility over time. Is the business growing its non-brand keywords? Are more people searching for and landing on the website and are they converting? Is the business then getting more revenue off the back of those non-branded organic searches?
And I think, to be honest, that's what it boils down to. I think reporting is such a minefield of an issue to be honest. And there's so many different opinions on what reporting should and shouldn't be. And obviously, if you're agency side like I am, then some clients prefer shorter reports with, is traffic up? Are leads up? What have you done this month? Some clients prefer a long list of keywords because they've really got the heart set on individual keywords. And then there's the whole conversation around actually, is that right? Because if you get your heart set on one keyword and that drops, but then you look in Search Console and you can see, well actually, that page has had... Or Analytics, sorry. And you see, well, that page has had more clicks from a different keyword and actually more conversions, so don't worry too much that actually your favourite keyword from your SEO report has dipped from third to fourth, for example. But actually, that's why you then need to get the whole picture, the bigger picture and look at the historic performance. When we onboard a client for example, how long have these problems been going on? Is there indexation issues that have been three-plus years? Well, if that's the case, that's when the report shouldn't just be a list of keywords; it should be okay, "This is your historic performance of the website. Actually, we need to build back up that trust with Google for it to even consider ranking you, to even consider crawling you," depending on the technical state of their website. So like I say, it's a minefield, but it shouldn't just be a list of keywords. And even if it sort of is because I mean, you're going to involve keywords in your report because if you didn't, then it wouldn't be an SEO report, but I still think there should be some context there to say, "Look, this is what we've worked on, these are the keywords we've worked on this month, this is why, this is what we've seen on the back of it. This is what's worked. This what's not worked," because not everything works all the time. Not every single page is going to be the same, like, "Oh yeah, easy, done," because that's just not how things work in SEO with Google and all the other millions of things that affect performance and conversion rate and UX. It's not just keywords; it's the whole website.
So that was a very, very, very long-winded answer, but it shouldn't just be about keywords, but it should be a bit more well-rounded and results-focused I think is the key thing really because it's all well and good skimming through a 15-page report or whatever report you're getting, it should tell you is it working or is it not? And if it's not, then let's work through that basically. I think that's the best way to report on something SEO-wise. What about you?
Jack: Yeah, definitely. I think bigger picture and context are the two things you said there that really, really resonate as the key elements for me because so much of it, you can... I think rank tracking, like you're saying, at the end of the day, that is a big part of SEO whether you like it or not. I think it's still a relevant thing to report, but doing it in the context of long-term stuff. So, "Do you remember six months ago where you didn't rank for this thing at all? Well now you're in position three, now you're in position two, now you're in position one," and having historical data to go back through previous reports for a month, "Last month's report, it was this," or, "From six months ago, it was this." Some clients, we've even moved to quarterly reporting for them because they're like, "Our industry is very slow-moving. There's no point doing month-to-month stuff." For the record, I don't think month-to-month reporting has much value in SEO anyway. I think year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter kind of stuff makes way more sense in the long term.
Katie: I love that.
Jack: And when you come around to looking at literally how to present stuff, there was, again, I'm referencing a lot of BrightonSEO talks because I've got it on the brain at the moment. I've just been booking stuff for Brighton, so I've clearly got it on my mind. There was a brilliant talk from Sophie Brannon a few BrightonSEOs ago, and she was talking about how important SEO reporting can be and how you can make it not really boring and shit and make it actually engaging for the client so the client actually cares and they're invested in what you are doing and how you are presenting it and all that kind of stuff. We've started moving towards more of a dashboard-based thing. So if the client wants to dive into more detail, there's loads of clickable elements, they can dive around and have a look and filter stuff and see which subfolders are performing, which keywords are performing, which pages are getting the most clicks, which have changed year-on-year most, and all this kind of stuff, rather than just a, "This has gone up by 100 clicks, this has gone up by 500 impressions," just a wall of text, and actually having an interactable thing. And you're totally right as well, it depends from client to client. Some clients want data, they want numbers, they want figures, they want... Some clients are like, "I don't care how much money we've made. Is it more than we made this time last year? Cool, good. If it's not, why not? Tell me." And something I've really gotten into the habit of doing and kind of shifted over the last sort of year, 18 months or so since I joined Candour, was including things like competitor stuff in there as well. So having a... Not because we're sponsored of the podcast by SISTRIX, but I do genuinely use SISTRIX for this, is competitor analysis and stuff and doing that long term over the last two, three, five years, however long this relationship has been going with the client, and you can backtrack it as well. Get them to get an idea of their competitors in the organic space. When they're looking around and searching for their own products and stuff, what are they seeing? Who else are they seeing on the SERPs? Do your own research as well, compare and contrast it, and get a hand for the competitors and track those long term.
I found that's been really, really useful for tracking things like industry changes. So like, "Oh, everyone has gone up in visibility suddenly." It's like, "Was there a Google update? Was there a shift or this kind of thing?" Or, "Two competitors have gone up, the other three have gone down including us, why? What's happened? What's changed?" Or, "We are the only one that's going up and everyone else is going down." You can get a much... That's that bigger picture thing. You can really pull out, zoom out and see, well, they're focusing on this particular strategy right now and chances are they're probably working with an SEO agency as well because I don't know about you, Katie, but you get the inkling of that sometimes where you check out a competitor's website and you're like, "Hmm, I can smell another agency's work on SEO."
Katie: Yeah. I was doing research and I've been on a website and I've thought, that's not just there, putting it there blindly. Someone, an SEO specialist has done that. No one just adds that schema for no reason at all.
Jack: Yeah, definitely.
Katie: But yeah, I think with the bigger picture, it obviously helps the client to see, obviously on the client side as well, to see some of the story. But definitely I've had calls in the last few days where when the client can see the bigger picture and actually how, for example, looking at the last 16 months or looking at the historic data, I can come back to Search Console because I think it's really, really undervalued, looking at non-brand, like I say, organic clicks and impressions. When they're all up by, not by 2%, by something notable and actually the client can see and see the impact of that on the bottom line essentially... And then a client got into contact with me on a call a few days ago and said that actually they were taking that to a management meeting to talk about the benefits of SEO and the pitch that they were trying to build. So you then get the investment and you see that from higher up. It's not just about the client that have that direct contact with. Actually everyone else then suddenly sees, "Oh, okay, SEO's not just about keywords. Something that agency is doing is working because here's the graph," and then it's nice uplifting in everything because it's that long-term way of looking at things rather than just, like you say, month on month. It's harder. You can't judge performance really. Obviously, you can judge performance to a level.
Jack: If it suddenly drops off a cliff, that's still a bad sign.
Katie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But when you look at it long term, you'll get a much better understanding, a much better understanding. So yeah, I think that that really is quite important as well.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. I think that buy-in as well is such an important part that I've heard covered on many of the podcasts before, but tying it round into the reporting side of things, you might not be speaking to the person who makes the big decisions in that company. You might be. Granted, with plenty of clients I've worked with in the past, I am directly reporting to the founder or the CEO or whoever it is. But a lot of the time, you're talking to the only digital marketing person in that call, maybe just the only marketing person in that company. There might be a marketing manager, there might be a junior, whoever it is, is like, "Oh yeah, we'll fob off the SEO agency onto those and they'll deal with it," and then it is their job to then report that back to the C-suite people, the higher ups, the executives and all that kind of stuff. And you're totally right. When you hear, "Oh, I shared your report with my boss and they loved it and now we're going to up your retainer," or whatever it is, that's agency goals right there. That's the dream.
Katie: It makes your day, that. Doesn't it really?
Jack: And then you can go and tell your boss and be like, "Yeah, we nailed it."
Katie: Yeah, it's a nice little win that is and that's important. And in SEO, I think I talked about possibly on the SEO Mindset Podcast, that that's such an important thing to do. So yeah, it was definitely a yes moment when that client said that. Yeah, I was very, very pleased. Not going to lie.
Jack: Definitely, definitely. So next point we're going to talk about client relationships and asking the wrong questions to clients or asking no questions at all, right?
Katie: Yeah, it's a weird one because I think, again, this comes back from the amount of times I've seen either people on LinkedIn directly messaging you and 99% of them messages being, "Oh, I can get you to number one," or, "Oh, I've checked your website and I can see your rankings have plummeted." And I'm like, "No, they haven't. The rankings are up. You literally know nothing about what I'm doing with this client. You've not even spoken to the client, you don't know the business, you haven't had the conversation."
So yeah, just to step back a bit, I guess you can't just start an SEO strategy without talking to the client because yeah, you might have done that 10, 20 years ago when SEO started becoming even a thing. You'd just look at a website maybe and go, "Oh, okay. Well, what keywords would you want on these pages?" And do your keyword research, do some research in a third-party keyword tool, and pick out some that seem all right volumes. SEOs are not like that anymore. It couldn't be further from the truth, to be honest. It should be about having a kickoff call, which sounds way more friendly than a kickoff should be. But yeah, we should be having that conversation saying, "Right. Talk to me about your business." The amount of times in the last six months or so, I've said to a client the first time I've spoken to them on a video call and said, "Tell me about your business like I'm a two-year-old." First of all, it completely, what's the phrase, breaks the ice because they'll laugh and straight away they're like, "Oh, right, okay."
And then you get them smiling and everyone's had a chuckle and then they enjoy that because we're all people at the end of the day. And you get onto the call and the first thing you say isn't anything about SEO, it's about their business. They're suddenly way more interested. They suddenly want to then talk about their business, and business is like talking about their business, so ask them about their business. I'm saying "business" an awful lot, but get to know everything about their business, everything about how it works, what the process is, who's your ideal customer? And I don't just mean JoeBlogs28 from Birmingham. What are their problems? Really, really find out as much as you can to basically to know their business like they do. And then obviously, if you don't do that, your SEO strategy might not be quite as aligned as it could be. But then you can go away and you can then do the SEO research to say, "Okay, this is what your competitors are doing. These are keywords," and you can then put together a really grounded strategy in alignment with their business goals. But if you just use the website or you just scan some at the third-party tool and go with that hope or say, "Oh, well this report says X, Y, Z, then we should change these title tags straight away." No, it just doesn't work like that. You have to have those conversations first, understand their priorities. The amount of businesses I've gone to work with or the amount of clients, and they've got really old services, services they don't even have anymore, they don't even offer that service, on their website. And you start doing keyword research, and this was probably a couple of years ago now when I first started getting into SEO, and then you do a bit of keyword research and you suggest that in the plan and they go, "Oh, we don't do that anymore. Our focus is X, Y, Z." Well, if you'd had the conversation with the client and really, really got under the nitty-gritty of things, you're then way more confident in actually knowing what to research and what to prioritise. And I think when the client then sees that in your research, instead of just a list of keywords in an Excel spreadsheet because anyone can pull that, they then see, "Oh, okay. Right, okay. Well, they're a bit more serious about actually the approach and the why," because I think if a client understands the why, then they'd just get on board a little bit easier, I think. I don't know what you think.
Jack: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a really big part of, like you said, breaking the ice on that relationship and hopefully the plan is to keep that going for a long time, right? And starting off on the right foot, first impressions mean everything. There's all those phrases around making a good first impression. And I think you can even tie this back to the pitching and proposal stage. Whoever in your agency is going forth and outreaching to new clients and suggesting proposals to them and stuff like that, going that little bit extra and actually having that conversation with them during that initial call as well, like, "Hey, what kind of things do you think your business is about?" And, "Here's what I think your business is about from looking at your website."
And I don't know, the listeners couldn't see it, but I'm sure you could, I was vigorously nodding as you were saying that, totally agreeing. You get that moment where they have that old service and you're like, "Okay, cool, so we've planned this thing. The three main pillars of your business are A, B, and C." And they're like, "We haven't done C in five years." Why is there a whole section on your website about C then? They're like, "Oh, we'll get around to that eventually."
It's like, "Oh, right, okay, so what do you do?" It's like, "Well, we do D and E as well." I was like, "You don't mention that! Right, okay, perfect, perfect, brilliant. That is where we're going to start off. That's where we're going to kick off. Let's build these pages while also working on A and B. We'll get D and E up running, we'll get rid of C, redirect those, blah, blah, blah, blah." And you can already tell, that's a strategy forming straight away just from a couple of sentences, just understanding where they're coming from. You mentioned priorities there. I think that is a huge, huge key part of that, to understand what priorities are for the client because maybe they do still have A, B and C, but it used to be that C made the most money and now A is making them more money and actually, they kind of want to have a bit more visibility and a bit more share of the voice in B. So don't touch A, everything's good. Our primary service is all good, but we've just started this secondary service or secondary product range or whatever it is. That's where we really want you to focus. So for the initial six months, can we really hone in on this thing or whatever it is? Understanding them. And perfect example, you kicked off with the "explain your business like I'm a two-year-old" is the perfect way to not only get in the head of the business, but get in the head of the customers, the clients, the audience for your client and to understand, well, if you can't explain it to me and I can't infer that from the website or what you are saying to me is different to what you're saying on the website, then let's work together. Let's work that out. Let's understand where is that conflict? Where is that kind of clash coming from? I think that's such a huge part of that initial onboarding process and something I've experienced. I don't know about you, Katie, in previous agencies, it's stuff that people kind of take for granted. It's just like, "Yeah, we'll onboard them, we'll tick all the boxes, content audit, technical audit, one-size-fits-all strategy. Yeah, that'll do. That'll be fine." And just copy paste, copy paste, copy paste, spreadsheet, spreadsheet, done. Whereas actually, as you said, they're humans. Get to know your clients. Have conversations with them.
Katie: Yeah, I think it is so make or break. I think that because being on the agency side, I do think the first few months, let's say, are probably the most crucial of however long the client is on board with an agency. I think building up that trust at the very beginning, investing in that. I've set Jira tasks that have literally just called themselves business investment time just to understand them rather than going straight away and doing a technical audit. "These third-party tools say X, Y, Z. Oh, let's fix these title tags." I keep coming back to title tags, but it's the one that grabs them the most often. But actually, like I said, I think that's interesting that you mentioned prioritisation there that obviously, in the sense that you meant it, but then also it's all well and good looking at, for example, like you said, if the client's really, really excited about content and it's a really niche industry and they've got really specialist writers as well with E-E-A-T, that's obviously now really important, but you've got to then prioritise because if you look in Search Console and you can see, well actually, there's serious index bloat issues or serious cannibalization or anything like that, well actually, let's hold fire on your content audit because the content's still going to be there to create or to optimise or to work on and improve. But actually, if Google's saying 80% of your website's rubbish because you've got way too much content going on and it doesn't know what's what and it doesn't know what pages are the high-value pages and it's got serious problems, you can put all the money you want into content, but if it's not going to index it or if it's not going to like your website, you're throwing your money in the bin. So I think this prioritisation in SEO has a lot of different levels.
Jack: Absolutely. I think it's a thing I've been trying to develop and learn almost more than anything else since working here at Candour. The ability, like you said, to prioritise my own tasks throughout the day, prioritise my tasks throughout the month on various clients, then really boiling down to in this technical audit, how do you prioritise these things? How do you present these to the client and explain that actually, fixing this no index issue or this indexing issue is more important than sorting out these title tags that are five characters too long and explaining that process and all?
Katie: Well said.
Jack: Back to title tags. You're welcome. And that whole process, I think there's so many different layers of prioritisation and ways to shift it, whether that's big picture, little picture, really tiny little details and literally a notebook on my desk of, "This is what I need to do today, this is what I need to do tomorrow, this is what needs to be done by the end of the week. This is what needs to be done by the end of the month," being able to prioritise like that and then the way you're communicating with a client. When I go into a reporting call with a client, I don't read everything on the report note for note, number for number, word for word. I pick out the highlights and say, "This is the work we've done, this is why it matters. Here's why it's working. Okay, this didn't work, this previous strategy. Here are the results from that. And if you want more information, you can go." And like I said, having that interactable, you can dig through that. "If you want to go and check out all your rankings, feel free. I'll pick out some highlights, I'll pick out some things and really prioritise. I know these are important to your business, so let's talk about these topics," rather than, "Here's a hundred different keywords that I'm going to list. Keyword one, move from position five to position two. Keyword two, move from position 35 to position 25."
Katie: Yeah. Doesn't mean anything, does it?
Jack: Nobody wants to listen to that stuff.
Katie: No, definitely.
Jack: You don't want to talk about it. Nobody wants to listen to it.
Katie: Well said. Well said.
Jack: So let's talk about some of those pages you mentioned there, those kind of neglected, low-quality pages. And again, I think this is a huge part of that initial scoping out of a client, getting an idea of what is working on their site and what isn't working, and feel like a lot of people are just guilty of just leaving stuff hanging around and not performing well and not going for that either cleansing it entirely or refreshing it and realising, "Oh, there is potential, but it's not good enough." Do you think that's a valuable thing to have that conversation with the client in those early stages as well?
Katie: Yeah, I think a content audit shouldn't be something that's... Content audit in itself sounds a bit jargony. I say that to clients and they go, "Oh, what do you mean? We haven't got any creative? We need to find some creative writers?" And I'm like, "No, no, no. I don't mean let's create 12 fancy infographics and a whole blog strategy that lasts 20 on years." Content audit is let's look at your website and see what pages do you have on your website, what pages are being picked up, crawled, indexed, and then being ranked because there's different stages. Just because it gets crawled doesn't mean it's going to get ranked. And actually looking at what clicks are they getting? What impressions are they getting? Are they of value? Because I think this is something that, again, when you don't work in SEO, when you work in a business, i.e. you're the client, you might not understand, and obviously I wouldn't expect them to understand. You wouldn't quite get that Google wants to show, wants to serve valuable content. And obviously at the moment with E-E-A-T and everything around the last year or so of Google, it couldn't be more important that your content is valuable because Google is now saying, "If it's not valuable, I'm not ranking it." So actually, going back and looking at your pages and going, "Okay, well, these are the valuable ones. These are the ones that we need to make sure they're performing. And if they're performing, great. If they're not, obviously we can refresh it and optimise it, et cetera, et cetera." But the ones that aren't, it amazes me how many client websites I've worked on and they've got blogs from 2016, possibly even before then, that aren't evergreen so they're about a news thing that happened 21 years ago or whatever it was, and an intern wrote a blog on it. And I'm not saying interns shouldn't write a blog or anything like that. There's no discrimination at all. That's not what I'm saying. But old content, content that's A, not evergreen and has now been on the website for 10-plus years maybe, even if it's five years, to be honest, every single page of content-
Jack: Sometimes even 18 months can be too much depending on the speed of the industry, right?
Katie: Exactly. Oh, and in SEO, it's a week and you're like you-
Jack: Five minutes, yeah.
Katie: Exactly. Exactly, Jack. So yeah, I think content audit, there's a bit of misunderstanding around it and I think it needs to be done, if possible, obviously it depends on the client's budget as to how much work you can action each month, but it needs to be done at the start because if you've got, like I said earlier about Search Console, if you've got 80% of your website is blogs and is old blogs or is even landing pages, whatever type of content or page that's on the website, if Google's seen it and either it's discovered it from a back link or it's discovered it in the site map or it's discovered it anywhere and it's either not coordinate or it sees it as sting content, that's where you then get that massive list of reasons why your page hasn't been indexed or anything like that. That needs to be addressed because like I say, it comes back to that index bloat. Every single page on your website, and I'll say this until I'm blue in the face, every single page on your website needs to have genuine value. And there needs to be not just written for SEO, but it needs to offer something of actual substance, not just copy some headings written for the sake of it, whether it's AI content or not... Can't not mention AI in 2023. Yeah, it needs-
Jack: Welcome to SEO in 2023, impossible to talk without AI.
Katie: Exactly. It's crazy. So yeah, and I think I'm getting so tongue-tied over this because it's such a stressful thing that I think clients think, "Oh, well, they're only old blogs, it doesn't matter. Let's just leave them there." And I'm like, "No! Because that's 80% of your website and Google sees it as rubbish." So it's something that needs addressing, but I think it's about, again, it always is a lot of the time with clients, it's about education and explaining, "Okay, I'm not just saying I don't like these blogs, let's get rid of them." There's a reason why you're saying it and actually why Google doesn't like old content. And I think if you can explain that and educate them, and again, build that trust up, then it can be make or break. I feel like everything in SEO at this point is make or break.
Jack: Yeah, I think that's a huge part of that initial content audit. There's a brilliant thing we've done before and that real eye-opening moment for a client where you say, "So 78% of your pages have received zero clicks in the last 12 months." And they go, "But we poured a heart and soul into all those blog posts." You're like, "Yeah, they don't provide any extra information," and using the word value to the customer there, that is the perfect way of describing that. What are you expecting the person who reads that blog post to take away from this? Are they learning that it was somebody in the company's birthday? Cool. There's no SEO value in it. You can keep that for posterity of it was Jack's birthday and he celebrated his 30th birthday or whatever it was, whatever. But don't expect to get any traffic from that. And I've seen so often, like you said, you get that kind of really specific, "This thing happened in 2015." Okay, cool. And a strategy we've been talking about with clients over the last couple of years is if you're going to do historic stuff, like, "Our best-selling products of the year," or, "Our best-performing whatever," or, "We won these awards," whatever it is, any annual thing or tied to a specific date kind of thing, you can use that data but have an evergreen page that essentially hosts all of that stuff. And so often, you will see like, "Blah, blah, blah Awards 2017" in the URL.
And I was having a conversation, funny enough, with a friend of mine who was building a website the other day. I can't remember what CMS they were using, but for whatever reason, all the URLs defaulted to like /live/2023, then the actual slug. I was like, "Get that 2023 out of there right now" because that'll be out-of-date in six months. What are you doing? You going to change that to 2024 or what's the plan here? And they're like, "I don't know. It did that automatically." I was like, "Well, get rid of that." If there's one thing to take away from me, you can take away plenty from Katie from this episode, but one thing from me is don't put years or dates into URLs, please. It ages things instantaneously and means you can't easily turn it into an evergreen piece of content. If that opportunity comes back around, you then need to think about archiving and redirecting and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Yeah.
Katie: It's too messy. It's too messy. Make life easy for yourself. And CMSs, I think, have a lot to answer for, I think.
Jack: Well, that's definitely a whole other rant we can go on. But yeah, I think future-proofing your content, and like you said, not being too precious. I come from a writing background, I've worked with a lot of editors who've completely butchered my writing and I'm like, "Eh, yeah." You get used to it eventually. Kill your darlings and all that kind of stuff in the classic, if you want to go very literary about it. But I think clients are kind of precious. It was like, "Well, we spent months and months doing this whole series of blogs about this particular service or product offering that we have." You're like, "Yeah, nobody clicked on it though, did they? So should we completely rewrite that from scratch or should we just delete that entirely and redirect it?" There's so many different ways to go about it, but I think you're right. There can be value in those old pages, but a lot of the time, you can just get away with, "Yeah, sorry, nobody's looking for this stuff anymore. You probably don't even offer this thing that you are writing about anymore. So see ya later, old blog post."
Katie: Yeah, I think the thing that you mentioned actually earlier about birthdays, obviously, I'm agency side so I don't think I've ever been client side and I appreciate that companies are going to want to shout about the good stuff that's going on in their company. I'm all for that. I think that's fantastic, but I don't know how, well, I do know how and it's not much, how much value Google's going to get out of, like you say, "Oh, new intern's birthday." I don't know why I keep saying interns, but do you know what I mean?
Jack: You're really calling out the interns this week, yeah.
Katie: Sorry. No discrimination.
Jack: Yeah, I think there's value in doing a social media post for that, like, "Oh, it's the CEO's birthday or the marketing manager's birthday," or whatever. Cool. Take a little photo, put it on Twitter, Threads, Instagram, whatever you're using, LinkedIn, whatever. Cool. Don't worry about putting it in the CMS and making sure the featured image is the right size and then blah, blah, blah. And, "Oh, is this URL... Oh, that doesn't quite work. The title tag's too long," and we're back on title tags again. "Oh, we haven't got the meta description perfectly crafted." Who cares about a meta description about Jack's birthday? Nobody, not even my mum is searching for my birthday. Nobody cares about that kind of stuff.
Katie: Oh, I'm sure she is.
Jack: I would hope my mum knows. She doesn't need to Google it. She would know it already. Right?
Katie: Well, yeah. Oh my dear. That's 3:00 PM brain for you.
Jack: I know, right? Cool. Let's wrap up with the last topic then, shall we, and talk a little bit about technical SEO. And this is kind of the other side of the content audit, right? This is kind of the pressure I think a lot of people feel to get that 100% score on whatever tool you are using and how that's kind of not the best way to go about doing stuff.
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I think technical SEO, to be honest, until about 12 months ago, the thought of even just the words technical SEO would make me go "Ugh" a little bit. And I don't think I'm the only SEO in the world that thinks that, but I think actually I've been doing a webinar by Daniel Foley Carter, and I think if any SEO is out there wanting to grow in their career, whatever level they're at, I think it's a paid-for workshop, but you get so much value for money, and I would strongly recommend going ahead with that if that's something you're interested in.
But I learned a lot in that webinar and it was all about how to strategise based on data, and it was all about how, like we say, those blooming title tags, it's not necessarily... A technical audit isn't pulling the things that are wrong with your website that include H1s and oh, you've got too many H2s on this page, and that kind of stuff that, like you say, that you've pulled from a third-party piece of software. Technical SEO isn't about that. It might have been 10, 20 years ago, but it's 2023 and that just doesn't cut the mustard anymore. Technical SEO should be about using the data, the real data, in Search Console and actually getting to grips with how is your website performing historically because if you don't know that, I don't know how can you then create a whole SEO strategy with lots and lots of keywords and look at all this content if actually there's a serious problem with the robot's text file or if the site map's got major issues with it. You can do all the content in the world, but actually you need to check and look and deep dive. It's so worth that deep dive into that data to see what pages is Google picking up? What pages is it crawling? What pages is it indexing or not? Is there cannibalization? All of that kind of stuff, that's what's going to impact the long-term SEO strategy rather than a technical audit in regard to commerce from a third-party tool.
Obviously, if you're brand new to SEO and you don't know what a technical SEO audit is, then obviously I'm sure those tools are quite helpful in that aspect, but a technical SEO audit should be to work out the historical performance of a website in terms of indexability and where it's getting the clicks from, where it's getting the impressions from, non-branded, and then from that data, you can then work out, okay, what do we need to do with this website to get it to be driving the revenue or the needs that it needs to from an organic perspective rather than just whipping up, tasking up some title tags from a third-party software? I think, for me, that's something that I don't see a lot of in the SEO industry. It's always about, "Oh, here's a technical SEO audit. You need to fix these H1s," I'll say this time or, "Oh, your image alt tags." For goodness's sake, if I had a penny for every time I'd seen that, but actually, they're ranked number one because the intent's correct. So yeah, I think technical SEO auditing has a lot to answer for.
Jack: Yeah, definitely. I think you're totally right. When people go for that kind of checklist approach of just like, "Yeah, we all know that you need a title tag and an H1, a this and that and the blah, blah, blah," and making sure all your different on-page bits and pieces are sorted, but there is so much value in digging around in the Search Console data, like you're saying, that kind of, for want of a better phrase, it's about as close as you're going to get to that first-party data to know what queries people are actually finding your site through, how your pages are actually performing from the SERPs.
Granted, you don't get any of the revenue and lovely conversion data and stuff we've been talking about earlier on, but you get that raw from SERP-to-site kind of data that you need to understand how Google is understanding your site, what kind of things does Google rank you for? Essentially, that average position, I think, is something people really take for granted and ignore a lot of the time.
I know it's something Mark and I have talked about a lot where if there's a sudden massive drop in impressions or a sudden massive drop in clicks, to have a little quick check of your average position. If that hasn't changed, something else is going on. You've not suddenly lost rankings. And you might see in some tool or whatever, oh yeah, the rankings have changed, but then you go and check the SERP and you're still at number one, number two, number three or whatever it is, there's something else going on. There might be an overall drop in interest for that particular topic or your brand or whatever it is. And there's so much information, just that one little piece of information you can pull out so much, like you said, rather than, "Oh no, this is too long, this is too short. Oh, you haven't got enough meta descriptions." Yeah, great, cool.
Katie: No one cares. Yeah, they care about the impressions, don't they, and the traffic?
Jack: Exactly. Yeah, and I think speaking of Daniel Foley Carter, what a fantastic person to recommend to go and follow. I'll put links to follow Dan in the show notes as well because he's one of my favourite people to follow on LinkedIn. Genuine, real insightful, no-BS information that I think we have to filter through to find in so much SEO stuff these days, and there are a few people out there that kind of do it better than Dan for me. So yeah, huge shout-out to Dan for what he's doing. And yeah, go and check out that webinar. I'll find the link for that and put that in the show notes as well. So you're welcome, Dan, if you are listening. I know he does listen occasionally.
Katie: No, definitely. He asked me how I was finding it and I genuinely said it's one of the best value for money in terms of my career. I think there's a lot out there, like you say, there's an awful lot of SEO stuff on LinkedIn and obviously all of the social platforms as well and all over the internet, but it can be hard sometimes because it's such a saturated industry and there's so many articles on MaRS and on Ahrefs, and like I said, they are useful if you've literally never done SEO before and it's day one and you don't know anything about SEO. But eight, nine, 10 years in and you want to advance a little bit, even obviously if you're not nine or 10 years in, if you're a few years in or you're just excited about the potential because there's so much going on in SEO, and actually you want to figure out how to be a better SEO and get better results for either your clients or obviously client side, I think I would definitely recommend that webinar. I think there must've been like 25 hours worth of workshop or something.
But honestly, every single, all of it, all the screen shares, and it was just absolutely brilliant in terms of not necessarily thinking differently, but knowing how to use data because I think sometimes that can, when you've just stepped into SEO, it can be a bit sort of, oh god, a lot of organic sessions and you're trying to figure out GA and then GA4 comes along and it can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you're new in SEO, but I think if you know how to deal with the data and what the data is telling you... And another thing he's brilliant at breaking down, technical SEO, which I think has obviously massively helped me in understanding what Google Search Console is trying to tell you rather than just, "Oh, here's some reasons and here's some pages that aren't indexed." Well, if that's 10,000 pages out of a rather large website, you’ve got a serious problem that actually, if you understand what the importance is of it and you understand how to fix it, that could be, again, a make or break.
Jack: Yeah. And sometimes, you want some pages to be noindexed and that's done on purpose.
Katie: Oh yeah, of course. Yeah.
Jack: And you just see the report and it's like, "Oh my God, there's 10,000 pages that are no index. That's a bad thing." It's like, well, not necessarily.
Katie: Yeah, you have to check though, don't you?
Jack: Maybe not all 10,000 of them, but being able to dive into that indexing report, and credit to Google. They've improved their indexing report a lot over the last few months with the individual statuses and stuff, and it had the little where the responsibility lies, like, "Yeah, don't worry. We'll sort it. It's a Google problem," or, "You need to sort your website out. It's a you problem" kind of option there. And I think that has helped clarify for a lot of people like, "Oh, it's crawl but not index, what do I need to do?" Probably wait, just to see how it goes.
Katie: Probably, yeah. You don't have to action absolutely everything that Search Console tells you, but I think to make yourself a better SEO, I think I'd advise, have a look and Google stuff. Google stuff and watch videos and try and understand what it's telling you and then actually figure out, okay, well, do we want this page to be indexed? And then if you're not quite sure on the whole... If you understand it isn't there on indexation, then obviously either Google it or then ask yourself if it's indexed, would I want to see this page in the SERPs? Would it matter to someone who is a potential customer? Or actually, do I not want to see WordPress admin URLs all over in depth? Do you know what I mean? So not absolutely everything has to be actioned, but it should at least be looked at properly and decided either way through it for the reason or not, basically.
Jack: Definitely, definitely. We mentioned you should go and follow Daniel Foley Carter, but if people want to follow you on social media, Katie, where can they do that? Where can they find you and follow your SEO escapades across the internet?
Katie: Well, I'm pretty much only really active on LinkedIn. I've become a lot more active these days, but yeah, you can definitely find me on LinkedIn. I'm not so much on Twitter and Facebook. I know a lot of our industry is quite active on Twitter.
Jack: Well, not for much longer if Elon Musk has anything to say about it.
Katie: No, no, no. Or I should be saying Threads now, shouldn't I? That's the new thing, isn't it? But I am on Threads, but I'm by no stretch of the imagination an active user. But yeah, I much prefer LinkedIn because you can get much more detail and value from it, I think. Yeah, so go see me on LinkedIn, I'd say.
Jack: Nice. The links for that, listeners, will be in the show notes at search.withcandour.co.uk. Go and follow Katie because she's doing cool stuff in SEO and has cool things to talk about.
Katie: Thanks very much, Jack.
Jack: Thank you for joining me. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Katie: It has. I feel like I've had a little mini-therapy session about SEO, and that's always a good sign.
Jack: I'm an SEO specialist, podcaster, and not-licensed therapist. There you go.
Katie: Add that in your bio.
Jack: Yeah, I'll be updating my Threads bio next.
Katie: Do, do.
Jack: Awesome. Thank you, Katie. It's been really, really cool chatting with you.
Katie: Cool, likewise. Thanks, Jack.
Jack: And that about wraps this up for this week's episode of Search With Candour. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Katie. A bit more of a rant really, but I thought it was a lot of fun and had some interesting insights and some excellent advice in there as well.
I'll be back over the next few weeks. I'll be talking all about why people think it's hard to build links in 2023 with professional digital PR specialist and consultant, Joe O'Reilly. I'll be reuniting with Mark on another SISTRIX With Candour livestream. That will be over on SISTRIX's YouTube channel. I'll put a link for that in the show notes. And of course, that will be on the podcast feed as usual as well, doing our usual recap of the month's highlights in news and a bit of Q and A as well. I'll also be having conversation with Alizée Baudez coming up in the not-too-distant future as well, so please do stay tuned for all of that coming up in the next few weeks on Search With Candour. Until then, thank you so much for listening and have a lovely week.